I went for a run this morning, as I like to do on Friday’s as a way to help clear my head. My run is normally the time when I take ideas that I’ve collected throughout the week and see if I can arrange them in such a way that a story might start to form. One idea, linked to another, connected by a story or anecdote.

As I left the back gate this morning it dawned on me that I really didn’t have any solid ideas. This often happens but by about kilometre number two or three there is normally something that has popped into my head that I can work with. When I got to kilometre number four this morning and there was still nothing. 

This is when I normally start to panic. These blogs are excruciatingly hard to write if I don't have at least some loose idea or theme to follow. It's like trying to find something without a map. I just end up ambling around in the dark, but the worst part is, I’m not sure what I am looking for. 

This morning on my run I decided not to panic. After my deep dive month of learning about Stoicism I decided there must be a tool that I can use to help me in such a situation and I decided to go with hope. Or not hoping as the case maybe. This was pretty much a one liner in the book I’ve been reading but the Stoics didn’t encourage hope because it automatically invites fear that whatever you hope for might not happen. This is pretty brutal, to not ‘hope’ for things but the core of Stoicism was to maintain tranquillity and hoping wasn’t worth the fear that it brought with it.

So this morning when I was running I decided not to hope. Not to hope that an idea would pop into my head (forgot the fact that the very remembering of this concept was in fact an idea popping into my head). I actively decided to stop worrying about what I was thinking about and try to dismiss everything that was forming in my head.

Trying not to come up with ideas is probably the best way to come up with ideas. My Mum will tell you that this has been a lifelong issue. As soon as I’m told not to do something I want to do it more than ever. This morning was no different. As soon as I decided not to hope, I started to imagine life without hope and what that would actually be like.

It sounds so grimm. Not to hope for anything but the Stoics had a point that in hoping for something you also set yourself up for not getting it which would ultimately upset your tranquillity. A modern version of this would be my Dad’s saying “he who does not expect shell not be disappointed”. I’m obviously not sure that my Dad was the original author of this saying but he’s certainly said it enough times for it to be one of his catchcry’s.

I used to get cross with this saying - it lacks optimism and encouragement. What kind of pessimist would go round telling their teenage kids ‘not to expect’. It turns out Dad was (not surprisingly) quite the Stoic and setting us up for the reality of life rather than building up our expectations. He also had another saying “A little bit of water will wear away the rock. A little bit of toenail will wear away the sock.” I’m yet to see that one’s profound importance Dad but I’m sure it will land one day!

Stoics believe that giving up hope meant that you could live firmly in the present moment rather than thinking, dreading or fantasising about what might happen in the future. You can never feel completely at ease when you place your faith in hope because it is ultimately out of your control. Stoicism 101 is DON’T worry about what you can’t control. 

Running coincidentally is quite a good analogy for this (and many other things in life) but this morning as I ran I found it hard. I normally do. I’ve put it down to my alarm going off at 6am and I’m running by 6.05am. I’m literally waking up as I run. This means that it feels like I’ve never run before up until about kilometre 4 when I finally start to settle into the pace. 

As a way to motivate myself I normally look ahead to landmarks and tell myself - just make it to the next corner Jess. Just make it to the intersection Jess. Just one more lap Jess. I’m always reaching forward - hoping that I can make it to the next landmark. This morning I tried bringing it right back in. Instead of hoping to make the next landmark I brought the focus on myself. What was happening to me right at that moment. What could I actually control? 

When I started to slow down I asked myself what was going on. I started with my feet, did they feel ok? Yep, so they weren’t the problem. There was a slight tightness in my left shin but not enough to stop, I’d just make sure to stretch properly when I finish. Both knees are feeling good. Lungs are tight - my breathing is really quick, can I slow my breathing while still keeping the pace… yes. Yes, I can. 

These few moments of checking in with myself, which I do have control over helped me more than just hoping to hit the next landmark. I even did an extra lap of the soccerpitch I run around as a test to see if I could go further and it worked. I also used some negative visualisation to imagine what would happen if I couldn’t do it. I imagined myself curled over on the side of the running track, sweat pouring from my bright red face, breathing so hard I look like I’m going to faint! This reality wasn’t great but it was survivable and all I’d do is slowly walk home. Even the worst case wasn’t that bad.

“Cease to hope and you will cease to fear” ~ Seneca

Not investing in ‘hope’ helped me this morning, not just with my run but in writing this blog as well! I’m sure it would come in handy for all sorts of things in life but it is a pretty hard habit to break. Hope is something that is sold to us all day long. All advertising is ultimately scene’s and scenarios to hope for - buy this watch and your friend will all be cooler. Drink this beer and you’ll have fun parties. 

I imagine others would argue that Hope is important because it makes the present less difficult to bear. If we think tomorrow will be better we can push through the hardship of today. It gives us something to work towards. But what if today was your last day? Would you want to spend it hoping something better was going to happen? I sure as shit wouldn’t want to and neither did the Stoics or my Dad.

Video of the week
Blink-182 Reacts To Teens React To Blink-182
Podcast of the week
Steph’s Business Bookshelf: it’s 2023: What I’ll be reading this year, and a year of experiments.
Font of the week
Zloy: Font of the week by Daria Petrova

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